By Mick Hatten
ST. PAUL, Minn. — There were six teams in the NHL, six in the American Hockey League and one more in the ECHL that Matt Hendricks played for from 2004-2019. That’s a lot of moving.
“My wife, Kim, at one point, counted how many moves we had and it was up around 40,” said Hendricks, who turned 38 in June. “It’s a lot of work for your loved ones, a lot of sacrifice.”
Last season, Hendricks played for the Minnesota Wild and the Winnipeg Jets, his 11th season in the NHL. He announced his retirement in June and recently took a job with the Wild working in player development.
“Down the road, maybe I’ll become a coach or I’ll stay in management,” said Hendricks, who played for Blaine High School (Minn.) and St. Cloud State before turning pro. “This job is more of a decision for me to be around my family. If I was coaching right away, I’d probably be away more than I was as a player. I’ve spent the better parts of 2 1/2 seasons away from my wife and kids.”
He and Kim have 7-year-old twins, Gunnar, a boy, and Lennon, a girl. Before Hendricks left for Edmonton for the 2016-17 season, he and Kim came up with a plan to keep the lives of their kids a bit more stable.
“They were in preschool and we decided that they would stay in Minnesota and then they would start school in kindergarten in our full-time home so that they could be around the friends they were going to be growing up with and in the activities with those kids,” he said. “We were not moving them around. Obviously, if I was 28 at the time, the decision would have been different.
“But I only had a short amount of time left to play, so we thought it would be more beneficial for them to be at home. It was hard on me, but it was harder on my wife. She had to sacrifice to be a full-time mom and take care of a household by herself in Minnesota during the winter, which is not ideal. She would lose at least an hour a day just getting them ready for things.”
Yes, technology helped a bit. But Gunnar plays soccer, hockey and tennis and Lennon plays tennis and is active in dance and music.
“You get Facetime and we made it work and the longest stretch that I didn’t physically see them was a month-and-a-half,” Hendricks said. “But they’re waiting for me to call or to come home and then they’re running out the door to somewhere else. I’m in my condo in Edmonton and I get to talk to them for about a minute and they’ve got to go. You hang up and you’re by yourself.”
Dwindling playing time
Then you add in that Hendricks played in a combined 26 games last season with the Wild and the Jets — the fewest he’d played in his career — and it started to add up.
“About two days into going to the gym (this offseason), I sat my wife down and I said, ‘I think I’m done,'” he said. “Just mentally and the physical grind … Being 38, it takes more and more to keep up with the young guys.
“My role was getting smaller and smaller in terms of playing time. You put in all the work during the summer and the season and you’re not necessarily seeing the ice time, which is fine. But that helped me make my decision. You put in 100 percent of effort into camp and the season and then there’s an injury and they’ll call a guy up from the minors.
“But the game has been so good to me and spoiled me. I spent more time in the league than I probably should have. There’s no hard feelings. A player knows when it’s time.”
Hendricks was a fifth-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators in 2000 after helping Blaine High School win Class 2A state title and being a Mr. Hockey finalist. He began his college career in the fall of 2000 at St. Cloud State and is 14th on the school’s list for career goals (54) and games played (154) and is tied for 25th in career points (112).
After St. Cloud State, he played in the AHL and ECHL for five seasons.
He made his NHL debut with four games with the Colorado Avalanche in the 2008-09 season at age 27 and then spent all of the 2009-10 season with them. Then he was with the Washington Capitals (2010-13), then split the 2013-14 season between the Predators and Edmonton Oilers, staying with Edmonton until he joined the Winnipeg Jets for the 2017-18 season.
Hendricks played in 607 NHL games and had 54 goals, 116 points and 722 penalty minutes.
Learning, 1st visit back to SCSU
After deciding to retire, Hendricks and Wild general manager Paul Fenton spoke about staying involved in the game.
“We have a very good relationship and it’s been strong since about 2000 when he drafted me in Nashville,” Hendricks said. “He worked with me when I was at St. Cloud through my developmental years.
“I think he saw something in me and thinks I can excel in this role and brought me on board.”
Hendricks is officially the assistant director of player development for the Wild. Brad Bombardir has been Minnesota’s director of player development since 2010.
“I have an opportunity to learn from Paul (Fenton), Tom Kurvers and Brad Bombardir and it’s nice to have a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips,” Hendricks said. “I sat in some meetings with them and I thought I knew hockey and I realized I don’t have any idea about knowing hockey.
“It’s exciting to be able to learn more about the game and understanding what I’m watching rather than just watching the puck.”
He will be spending some time this season back at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center to see his alma mater play. St. Cloud State’s Sam Hentges, a forward who will be a sophomore, is a Wild draft pick.
But Hendricks got to see his first Huskies game in person since he finished playing at St. Cloud State last season.
“I met up some good friends from the St. Cloud area that I made when I was a player and we got a quick bite to eat,” he said. “It’s such a cool arena and there’s so many great memories for me there. Coach (Brett) Larson was incredibly generous. I took my son and his friend up there for a birthday present.
“(Larson) gave us a tour of the locker room and the players came in and I got a chance to talk to them. I got a signed stick for my kid and it was a very rewarding and very cool experience.”
Hendricks on board of United Heroes League
Even though he is retired from playing, Matt Hendricks said he plans to continue to work with United Heroes League, a charity that was formerly known as Defending the Blue Line.
United Heroes League provides sports equipment, donates sports camps, subsidizes association fees, and distributes NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL, MLS and NCAA game tickets to military children.
“It was my wife’s idea back in 2009 to get involved and wow, it’s been rewarding to me,” Hendricks said. “To be able to meet some of the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had with that organization have been special.
“It’s incredible to see the kids’ smiles and they’re growing up. With our support, they have learned to love the game of hockey like we do.”
For information on United Heroes League, visit unitedheroesleague.org.